A Societal Loss of Individuality: An American Epidemic
BY TIFFANY VALKOVA '25
Hastily rushing down the slippery path to Lower Fields, huddling between friends for warmth, neither umbrellas or coats are in sight among the sea of students, even on a rainy 35℉-weather day. On sparse occasions, these tools would be preferred rather than speed walking to a destination, but why is this such a rare occurrence among adolescents when these are items created for everyday comfort, interchangeable with the shelter and warmth a car brings? These social expectations among students are apparent, but where do the origins of these social norms stem from? With the rise of social media in society in the modern ever-changing world, the pressures to conform leak their way into everyday life, drowning out means of expressing individuality beneath a flood of social expectations; the necessity of accepted social norms diminishes for those with limited technology usage, showing the life-changing impact of modern technology on young minds. Even throughout the various forms of social media and the onslaught of constant shifting trends enveloping students’ lives, there are still ways to regain a sense of individuality from the conforming crowd, especially in small ways that are already present in everyday life.
Social media stormed the world from its very creation, easily replacing everyday tasks. In the recent years since the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessity to embrace an asynchronous lifestyle, a dependency on technology has increased. In a 2022 survey from Pew Research Center, 16% and 15% of teens reportedly use Tiktok and Snapchat “almost constantly,” respectively. Social media is a way to efficiently connect people on a faster scale. Recently, watching and participating in evolving trends has been the new norm. Trends reach widespread audiences and create a connection between all of the people it reaches, enforcing an idea that participating in a trend would incite a positive response from others. These bonds are paralleled in the social norms that spread within societies. Humans have a natural desire to fit in and belong in their social groups; by incorporating these social norms into their own daily lives, they’re slowly absorbed until completely accepted as fact. Social norms mirror trends in their fundamental abilities to bring people together and cater to the desire for acceptance, so it is no surprise that with the rise of technology and social media, social norms have become more customary as well. Furthermore, social norms have dangerous impacts on a growing adolescent’s brain, especially on maturity levels and development of individuality. By conforming to widely accepted norms to establish a place in one’s respective group, if aspects of the group do not align with one’s true character, the pillars of individuality collapse under the pressure of belonging. As children at increasingly younger ages grow up in an unhealthy environment exposed to technology, it’s ingrained into their minds in these developmental stages as a digital role model. A 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics linked MRI scans of children between three to five years old to proof of decreased white matter which is crucial to language, literacy, and cognitive skills. Additionally, a screen dependency from a toddler solidifies the unhealthy habit well into life, branching into a social media dependency later in childhood. Children struggle with maturing with individual opinions due to the dangers of fake platforms. It erases growth in crucial stages of life, setting up a dependency on others’ approval from the very first click of an app.
Nevertheless, the human nature of individuality is embedded into people from birth, and it only takes chipping away at modern obstacles to regain it. Everyone has their own individual hobbies, passions, and ideas that are developed from external experiences, but through time they can be masked under others. These can go unshared, such as a hobby of crocheting, a passion for visiting aquariums around the world, or the favoritism towards tulips compared to all of the other flowers out there. Without learning a level of self appreciation for uniqueness, individuality can’t be developed and expressed, leading to deeper issues of dependency and people-pleasing through adult life in the future. Secondly, the fear to stand up for sound personal opinions and self-respect demonstrates a similar issue stemming from social media and social norms. Without being able to voice an opinion, one’s beliefs would be meshed into the overall group’s. It is important to acknowledge the power of personal choice, decision-making, and originality in ideas, all key aspects in human life and success. As technology continues to develop and tighten its hold on the youngest generations of Americans, the long-term impacts can point towards a societal addiction, but will this also carry over to social media? Social media can be a database for countless new ideas that can become a key part of one’s identity, but it’s important to acknowledge and prevent the consequences of completely surrendering to its overwhelming influence.
With the privileges of social media and technology comes the negative repercussions hidden behind the benefits. With the increase of social media, its target audiences turn to the youngest generations, inciting the imminent dangers of a lack of childhood corrupted by social norms that eliminates the possibility of a memorable and enjoyable childhood for many. It can spread into adulthood, naturally manifesting itself in the workplace, but showing the difference between healthy social norms at a dinner party and meetings, and borderline imitation from one person to the next as children’s minds are still growing into their own identities. Is it possible to regain agency from social norms? With widespread awareness of the root of the issue, steps can be taken to slowly but surely retreat back from the implicit bans on umbrellas and jackets, to keeping dry and dressing warmly.